4 Reasons Why Homelessness Keeps Going Up in Florida

Homelessness is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects millions of people in the United States and around the world. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were about 580,000 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. on a single night in January 2020, a 2.2% increase from the previous year.

Among the states, Florida has one of the highest rates of homelessness, with about 28,000 people living in shelters or on the streets, a 4.5% increase from 2019. Florida also ranks third in the nation for the number of unsheltered homeless people, behind only California and Texas.

Why is homelessness so prevalent and persistent in Florida? There is no simple answer, but here are some of the main factors that contribute to the problem.

1. Lack of Affordable Housing

One of the most fundamental causes of homelessness is the lack of affordable and adequate housing for low-income and vulnerable populations. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Florida has a shortage of more than 400,000 rental units for extremely low-income households, defined as those earning less than 30% of the area median income.

The gap between the supply and demand of affordable housing has resulted in high rents, low vacancy rates, and long waiting lists for subsidized housing programs. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Florida is $1,204, which is out of reach for many workers earning the minimum wage of $8.65 per hour. [4] A household would need to earn at least $23.15 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent in Florida.

Many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness spend more than half of their income on housing, leaving little for other basic needs such as food, health care, and transportation. A single unexpected expense, such as a medical bill, a car repair, or a job loss, can push them over the edge and into homelessness.

2. Lack of Adequate Services and Support

Another major factor that contributes to homelessness is the lack of adequate services and support for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Many people who are homeless face multiple and complex challenges, such as mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, physical disabilities, chronic health conditions, and criminal records. These challenges often require specialized and coordinated interventions from various agencies and organizations, such as health care, mental health, substance abuse, social services, legal aid, and housing.

However, Florida has historically underfunded and under-resourced these essential services and programs, leaving many people without access to the help they need. For instance, Florida ranks 50th in the nation for per capita spending on mental health, with only $36.05 per person in 2019, compared to the national average of $125.90. [5] Florida also ranks 49th in the nation for the number of psychiatrists per 100,000 population, with only 7.7, compared to the national average of 15.6.

Without adequate services and support, many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness end up cycling through costly and ineffective systems, such as emergency rooms, jails, and shelters, instead of receiving the appropriate and long-term solutions they need.

3. Lack of Political Will and Public Awareness

A third factor that contributes to homelessness is the lack of political will and public awareness to address the issue. Homelessness is often seen as a personal failure or a moral flaw, rather than a social problem that requires collective action and responsibility. Many people who are homeless face stigma, discrimination, and criminalization from the society, which further marginalizes and isolates them.

Moreover, many policymakers and elected officials do not prioritize or invest in homelessness prevention and solutions, due to competing interests, budget constraints, or ideological differences. For instance, Florida has a dedicated trust fund for affordable housing, known as the Sadowski Fund, which is funded by a portion of the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions. However, since 2002, the state legislature has diverted more than $2.6 billion from the fund to other purposes, leaving only a fraction of the money for affordable housing programs.

Without political will and public awareness, homelessness remains a hidden and neglected issue that does not receive the attention and resources it deserves.

4. Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

A fourth factor that contributes to homelessness is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the existing challenges and created new ones. The pandemic has caused widespread economic hardship, unemployment, and income loss for many households, especially those in low-wage and service sectors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 16% of Florida renters were behind on their rent payments in February 2021, compared to 9% in March 2020.

The pandemic has also increased the health risks and vulnerabilities of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as they are more likely to have underlying health conditions, lack access to health care, and live in congregate settings or public spaces. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, people who are homeless are 1.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19, 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times more likely to die from the disease, compared to the general population.

The pandemic has also disrupted the delivery and availability of services and programs for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as many providers have faced staff shortages, funding cuts, and operational challenges. For instance, many shelters have reduced their capacity or closed their doors to comply with social distancing guidelines, leaving many people without a safe place to stay.

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance and urgency of housing as a human right and a public health necessity, as well as the need for more robust and comprehensive responses to homelessness.


Homelessness is a serious and complex issue that affects thousands of people in Florida and millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. There are many factors that contribute to homelessness, such as the lack of affordable housing, the lack of adequate services and support, the lack of political will and public awareness, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To effectively address and end homelessness, there is a need for more collaboration, coordination, and investment among various stakeholders, such as government, nonprofit, private, and faith-based sectors, as well as the people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness themselves.

There is also a need for more prevention, intervention, and innovation in developing and implementing evidence-based and person-centered solutions that respect the dignity and diversity of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Homelessness is not inevitable or unsolvable, but it requires a collective and compassionate effort from all of us.

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